Sharing the pain

August 29, 2013

Beginning Sunday, it will be a lot more difficult for North Carolina residents to skip paying taxes on their motor vehicles.

File this one under the why-did-it-take-so-long-to-happen department.

The state’s Tag and Tax Together program, which takes effect Sept. 1, requires motorists to pay their motor vehicle taxes when renewing their registration. Those who don’t will have to drive around with an expired registration, so their luck won’t last for long.

We expect a windfall in Robeson County, which has a low collection rate for property taxes, especially on vehicles.

“We hope to see a substantial increase in the amount of motor vehicle taxes collected,” said Cindy Lowry, Robeson County’s tax administrator. “How much that will be, I can’t say for sure. It will probably be at least a year before we see what the new system will and won’t do.”

In a story by staff writer Bob Shiles in Thursday’s The Robesonian, Lowry said that Robeson County’s low property-tax collection rate, which is just on the north side of 90 percent, is primarily a result of so many local residents not paying their vehicle taxes — a meager 72 percent. Lowry predicts the overall collection rate will surge upward because of this new initiative.

The concept is simple enough.

When North Carolinians receive their vehicle renewal registrations, they will be required to pay not only the cost of registration, but the taxes on their vehicles. That money will be sent to the state, which will then distribute it to individual county tax offices.

The Department of Motor Vehicles website features frequently asked questions about the combined billing program and contact information for county revenue offices across the state. A Spanish version of the questions has also been posted and the Department of Motor Vehicles has produced a video to help explain the new program.

We applaud this new program.

In Robeson County, which is perhaps the poorest county in the state, we have too few homeowners, so they carry a disproportionate load in paying for this county to operate, whether it be for a deputy’s salary, the construction of the Department of Social Services building, or a commissioner’s salary and stipend. But almost every adult owns a motor vehicle, even if 28 percent of them in this county don’t pay taxes on it.

Collecting those vehicle taxes probably won’t mean a lower tax rate for Robeson County, which remains one of the highest in the state, but maybe it will keep lower the increase in the tax rate that seems inevitable.